New Technologies for Building Managers and Cleaning Workers

Most of us believe that the Internet of things (IoT) is relatively  new. In reality, IoT dates back to the late 1960s. That is when  “things” were first connected to other “things,” which usually  conveyed information to people using wires and cords. 

Today, these objects have been replaced with smart or connected  devices. Often, they use sensors to help collect data and then  transfer that data wirelessly to information centers, or in our case,  to facility managers and cleaning professionals. Further, this  communication is no longer a one-way street. Managers and  cleaning professionals can communicate with these smart devices  when and as necessary. 

It might seem unusual that we mention the professional cleaning  industry in a discussion of IoT. After all, the industry has a history  of not being all that tech-savvy. However, in the past decade or  more, that has changed. IoT along with other technologies are  starting to play a very significant role in the professional cleaning  industry.

The good thing about this, for both facility managers and the  professional cleaning industry, is that it is bringing with it many  benefits that can help improve cleaning effectiveness, increase  worker productivity, and reduce costs. 

Here’s a straightforward example. 

A multitenant office building was having an ongoing problem with  trash collection on certain days and on certain floors in the  building. Trash would begin to overflow in these areas, becoming  unsightly, causing odors, and resulting in ongoing calls to the  management office asking for help. 

An IoT system was installed to monitor the situation. The system  could tell when trash cans became full, giving managers and the  day porters in the building a “heads-up” long before the tenants called the management office for assistance. 

Further, the IoT system looked at the big picture. It found that the  trash containers on certain floors filled up the quickest on Monday  and Wednesday, whereas the other days of the week presented less of a problem. This information was also relayed to managers  and day porters so that they could more proactively handle the  situation. Complaints from tenants quickly decreased. 

But this is just one example of IoT at work in the professional  cleaning industry. Here are a few others: 

Connected cleaning equipment. It’s 10 p.m. and a cleaning  worker wants to know where a specific floor cleaning machine is  in the building. Instead of calling other custodians, she can find  out in seconds where the machine is, if it is being used, and even  if it is being used properly, merely by going to a computer screen  or a smartphone.

While she’s there, the worker can also learn how many hours the  machine has been used over its lifetime. This allows for predictive  maintenance. If it is time for the machine to be serviced,  maintenance can be performed now, preventing a costlier service  call and downtime down the road. 

How does this work? A manufacturer-installed module inside the  equipment collects data on its use. That data is instantly  transmitted to a cloud-based portal, then converted into insights  that can be read on a computer or smartphone. It’s fast, easy to  use and understand, and a money saver. 

Robotic floorcare. Floorcare equipment that can clean and scrub  floors all on its own may prove to be one of the most labor- and  cost-saving benefits of IoT, and fortunately, it’s here. Different  manufacturers are now introducing floor machines that can be  “taught” how to clean floors. In addition to its programming  capabilities, the machine has sensors, so if one day, for instance,  there is a box or a table in a floor area that was not there before,  the machine can clean around the object. 

Putting IoT floor machines to work allows cleaning professionals  to spend more time performing other cleaning tasks. Duties that in  the past have been placed on the backburner can be attended to  when needed, helping to keep the facility cleaner and healthier. 

IoT and smart restrooms. IoT has already given us smart homes  with systems that can control thermostats, lights, security systems, and appliances. Now it can provide facility managers  with smart restrooms. One task IoT systems are already helping  managers and cleaning professionals with is monitoring supplies—referred to as the fullness status—of paper, soap, and  other products, and as discussed earlier, trash levels as well. Not  only can the system communicate when supplies are running low, 

but it can also help provide insight as to when supplies are most  likely to run out and in which restrooms, so they can be refilled  long before that happens. Systems can also indicate if dispensers  are broken or not working properly. 

Furthermore, IoT systems can provide information as to the  busiest times for different restrooms. This way, cleaning  professionals know that certain restrooms in the facility may need  cleaning attention after, for instance, 10 a.m., while others don’t  need service until after 2 p.m. 

Real-time Communication 

IoT is not the only new technology making inroads in the  professional cleaning industry. Another example is  communication between facility managers and cleaning  professionals. 

Ron Segura oversaw the cleaning operations of more than 4.5  million square feet for The Walt Disney Company and is now a  cleaning consultant for facility managers and cleaning contractors.  He says that at one time, a facility manager might leave a note for the cleaning crew on her desk, alerting the crew to something in  the facility that needs cleaning attention.  

All too often, when morning comes, the manager finds the note is  still where she left it. Neither the contractor nor his staff saw the  note, which usually means the issue was not addressed. “I call  this a ‘hit-or-miss communication system’ [that] did not work in the  past and certainly will not work today when instant communication  is the norm.” 

New technologies address this problem by communicating directly  with cleaning crew supervisors. As an example, Segura says he  advised one of his large cleaning contractor clients to equip all its  staff with smartphones to receive and relay information. 

“Now when the manager tells the supervisor about a problem, the  cleaning supervisor can send before-and-after images of the  situation, how things looked before attention and then again after  it was addressed. This is real-time problem handling, which is  what today’s facility manager not only wants but expects.” 

Imaging Technology 

In the past, when managers and cleaning professionals wanted to  scientifically evaluate cleaning effectiveness and uncover areas of  a facility that may need increased cleaning attention, they turned  to ATP (adenosine triphosphate) meters. These provided a  reading that indicated how much ATP was on a surface. The  more ATP on a surface, the brighter the red flag that the surface  needed cleaning attention. (See Sidebar: What is ATP?) 

While ATP systems are still used in the professional cleaning  industry, new studies indicate they are not always reliable.  Replacing them is a new tool, referred to as imaging technology,  which is proving more dependable and effective.  

According to Brad Evans with OptiSolve, which offers imaging technology, these systems analyze surfaces. They then create  images indicating where microbes are present or not present on a  surface and in what density or amount. 

“We should view imaging technology as both an indicator and an  assessment tool,” he says. “It indicates if and where pathogens  are located, telling managers and cleaning professionals where  cleaning is needed.” 

As an assessment tool, Evans says imaging technology is able to assess cleaning performance. “This way managers can  proactively validate that the money they are investing in cleaning  is being delivered.” 

The Future 

We mentioned earlier that IoT and similar new technologies are  likely to prove very beneficial to both managers and cleaning  professionals and I trust our discussion here points that out. As to  the future, we can expect the advent of more new technologies  designed to improve cleaning effectiveness and performance and, along with it, worker productivity. These technologies are also  likely to help make facilities greener and promote sustainability, all  of which makes the future look brighter for facility managers. 

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning  industry. 

What is ATP? 

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is an energy-bearing molecule  found in all living cells. It was discovered by scientists in Germany  and the United States in 1929 and is considered a sign of life. If  ATP is detected on a surface, it means living cells are present. A  high level of ATP, a reading of 500 or more, would be a serious  cause for concern.

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